PALESTINE: Presidential election will not bring peace

January 19, 2005

Kim Bullimore

On January 9, Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) was elected the new president of the Palestinian Authority, with 62% of the popular vote, following the death late last year of Yasser Arafat. According to the corporate media, the Palestinian presidential election heralded the "first day of a new democracy" and "a historic day" for the Palestinian people.

However, as Dr Hanna Nasir, chairperson of the Palestinian Central Election Commission, pointed out four days before the ballot, "the free will of the [Palestinian] people cannot be exercised under military occupation".

Despite giving assurances to its principle ally, the United States, and to other governments that it would do everything in its power to facilitate the smooth running of the election and not interfere with right of Palestinians to campaign or vote in the election, Israel continued to harass candidates and voters throughout the election period.

In November and December, Palestinian presidential candidates were harassed and stopped from campaigning in Jerusalem and other areas of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Candidates were required to apply for permits from the Israeli occupation authorities to campaign in the election. One presidential candidate, Dr Mustafa Barghouti, was beaten and arrested twice as he tried to campaign without a permit, while others had their movements restricted by the Israeli occupation force.

One campaign worker, 17-year-old high school student was shot dead in Gaza by Israeli security forces as he pasted up campaign posters.

In September, the Israeli occupiers raided Palestinian registration booths, closing them down and confiscating documents and identity cards from both those trying to register for the election and staff working at the booths.

Despite pressure from various foreign governments, Israel refused to allow all Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, an area which under international law is classified as part of the OPT, to vote in the election. Of the 124,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem only 5376 were permitted to vote — at six Israeli post offices that had little capacity to serve as polling stations.

One international observer, Molly Picon, writing for the Electronic Intifada website, noted that those Palestinians who did try to vote at the Jerusalem polling booths faced extensive harassment — as did international observers — from Israeli paramilitaries (the so-called Jewish settlers).

The Israeli paramilitary settlers attempted to invade one polling booth (on Jaffa Street, East Jerusalem) to disrupt and close down the booth. According to Picon, the Israeli military and police made no attempt to stop the Israeli colonial-settlers from harassing those trying to vote.

The other 118,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were forced to travel outside the city, through Israeli military checkpoints, to West Bank towns and villages to cast their votes.

This and other acts of Israeli harassment of Palestinian voters contributed to the low voter turn out of just over 50%.

According to a briefing to the Washington-based Palestine Centre by Dianna Buttu, the legal adviser for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, between November 11 and January 6 the Israeli occupation forces killed 88 Palestinians (one quarter of them children), while injuring 339. In addition, the Israeli military conducted 1155 raids into Palestinian areas, arrested at least 900 Palestinians and detained 276.

During the same period, 89 Palestinian homes were demolished, 42 curfews were imposed on Palestinian villages and towns and nine assassination attempts were carried out by the Israeli occupation forces, resulting in the death of eight Palestinians. Israel also continued to construct its illegal apartheid wall and to expand its illegal colonial settlements in the West Bank.

Buttu noted that 3300 polling booths needed to be set up in the OPT because the Israeli government refused to dismantle any of the 700 military checkpoints which restrict Palestinians' movements. She pointed out that in last November's US presidential election, the state of Delaware, which is about the same size as the OPT, was serviced by only 410 polling booths.

The anti-democratic restrictions placed by Israel on Palestinians during the election ensured it was not fully free or fair. Far from "facilitating democracy", Israel has continued to restrict the freedom, movement, economic, political and civil rights of the Palestinian people.

Despite the corporate media and US/Israeli government propaganda to the contrary, the Palestinian election will not bring about peace in the Middle East as it is Israel's occupation of Palestine that is the main obstacle to peace.

[Kim Bullimore is a member of the Socialist Alliance. She has recently returned from Palestine where she spent the last three months working with the international human rights organisation the International Women's Peace Service in the West Bank.]

From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
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